Hiking shoes versus hiking boots? Hiking shoes win. Okay, next issue? No, really. Hiking or running shoes are better for most backpacking trips, at least during late spring, summer and early fall. Boots are heavy, hot, stinky, and stay wet forever. A pound on your feet is like five on your back (some say six), so three-pound boots leave you much more tired at the end of the day.
Hiking Shoes And Ankle Support
You may have heard arguments for the necessity of ankle support, but throughout history people managed without stiff ankle-supporting boots. The problem is weak ankles, not a lack of support. You can solve this by walking a little each week on uneven ground (not in the mall).
Some may need boots, but be sure your ankle problems are not just due to a lack of exercise before you settle for backpacking in hiking boots. You may also need hiking boots if you carry more than thirty pounds when you backpack. Cut the weight down, though, and you'll be more comfortable anyhow.
Why Running Or Hiking Shoes?
Feet stay cooler in a good running shoes than in hiking boots. This means fewer blisters. After switching to running shoes and lightweight socks years ago, I stopped getting blisters. I don't mean fewer blisters. I mean haven't had one blister since I switched. Not even after a 110-mile 7-day trek in the Rockies, for example.
How To Choose Your Shoes
Try to keep below two pounds per pair, unless you have size 13 feet. If the weights are not shown in a catalog, you'll have to guess which hiking shoes are lighter based on the description and photo. Quality shoes have soles stitched to the uppers, so look under the insoles (a removable insole is another sign of quality shoes). You can usually find a good pair of running shoes that weighs less than 28 ounces for under $80, or half of that on closeouts.
There's nothing quite as liberating as ditching the heavy pack and heavy boots and hitiing the trail in running shoes. You get to go more miles, and in comfort. You get to run up a hill just to see what's there. I have yet to meet a person who has tried backpacking in hiking shoes or running shoes - and then returned to boots.
Steve Gillman is a long-time backpacker, and advocate of ultralight backpacking. His advice and stories can be found at http://www.TheBackpackingSite.com